Going once, going twice … no he’s not! Cape Town’s favourite auctioneer is back.
After only a five-year hiatus from the industry, Julius Buchinsky, the charismatic trader who revolutionised the auction and property business in South Africa, becoming a household name to generations of Capetonian in the process, is relaunching Julius Buchinsky Auctions with co-shareholders Neale Petersen, of Real Estate Investor Magazine, and Cape Town businessman and CA Mark Canning.
Now 85 but showing every bit of the endearing charm and playfulness that made him a household name in the 70s, 80s and 90s, Mr Buchinsky is primarily targeting the new business at up-and-coming auctioneers in Cape Town’s disadvantaged areas, and is hoping the venture will contribute to his legacy in the city.
The shareholders will apply modern marketing and management systems to this new business, building on Mr Buchinsky’s reputation and network of clients, while also offering licences to approved agents throughout the country.
“I will not be doing any auctioneering myself. Rather, I am going to sell under licence, which means I will teach you to become an auctioneer,” Mr Bunchinsky said at his Newlands home this week.
“I still believe in the power of an auction to make people excited. These days there are online auctions everywhere, but there is no excitement. There is just such an aura about an on-site auction.”
While he may not be brandishing the gavel this time round, the trademark thick-rim glasses for which Mr Buchinsky became known in hundreds of newspaper advertisements still sit proudly on the bridge of his nose.
“When I started auctioneering in 1973, I didn’t have a single client,” Mr Buchinsky recalled fondly.
“I really came to auctioneering by chance. My father-in-law had a drapery business in Wynberg, and when he closed the business I helped sell off the stock. That’s really how it began. It was slow growth at first.
“Then I had an idea. I had some T-shirts made which said, “JBO (Julius Buchinsky Organisation) is ’* lekker ou.”
“Suddenly I started getting phone calls, except these phone calls were not what I expected. As it turns out there was a questionable business which also had the name JBO, and people thought I was them. I had to explain I was an auctioneer.”
However, a decision to place a photo of himself on his business card – “I was the first one in South Africa to do it” – marked a change in fortunes for the young company.
“There were suspicions I wouldn’t last six months, but I’ve now been 40 years in this business. I love people, and I will sell anything. It doesn’t matter if it’s 10 cents, R10 or R10 million. I will never turn it down.”
In his four decades as an auctioneer, it is only natural that Mr Buchinsky would have experienced many unforgettable moments, but for the irreverent octogenarian, two stand head and shoulders above the rest.
“The famous policeman-turned-bank robber André Stander had bought a yacht, the Lilly Rose, from the managing director of a scrap metal company for R150 000, and he was intending to sail this yacht to America. Somehow the government of the day got wind of this, and the yacht was impounded.
“I was instructed to put this yacht up for sale at an auction in Simon’s Town. People were taking bets that it wouldn’t go for more than R200 000. It was crazy. On the day of the auction, some 750 people turned up, there was that much interest. The yacht eventually went to a shoe merchant in Durban for R225 000.”
Mr Buchinsky’s other standout memory takes the form of a critical business lesson.
“The managing director of Ro-mens, the men’s clothing company, brought over some clocks from Germany, which he asked me to auction. I then asked him if he had anything else. To my amazement, he said, ‘Two Boeings’. One was a passenger plane, and the other a cargo plane.
“Of course I was excited about this. I went to one of the travel agents and got a photo of a Boeing to use in my advert. The response was wild. It was in all the papers. Everyone was interested in these planes.”
However, Mr Buchinsky was soon brought down to earth, so to speak, when he received a call from a newspaper reporter he knew well.”He said the real story was where these planes came from, and questioned whether I had a mandate to sell them. The planes’ origins were in the Middle East, and the truth was that I didn’t know whether we did have the mandate. The reporter said he would give me three days to find out whether we did have the mandate, otherwise he was going to have to write his story. Fortunately we managed to find the papers granting us permission to sell the planes. That is why to this day I will never auction anything without a mandate.”
The years between Mr Buchinsky’s retirement and the new venture have not been completely “business-free”, due to his ongoing commitment to the Jay-Bee Executive Discount Card, which he launched in 1978.
The card, which affords customers discounts at more than 200 upmarket suppliers, has also taken on a charitable aspect in recent years, with a portion of funds generated going towards the Amy Biehl Foundation.
So, what of those famous glasses, which in many respects have come to define auctioneering in Cape Town? “There’s been more written about these glasses than anything else. People are always asking me where I got them, but the funny thing is that this style was all there was when I got them in 1955. Everyone had them. Now they are my trademark.”